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Album Review: 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis

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Album Review: 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis
© Columbia/Legacy
Miles Davis was already known as an innovative and prolific trumpet player by the time he recorded Kind of Blue in 1959. Years earlier he had played bebop alongside Charlie Parker, and later set in motion a style that came to be known as "cool jazz" with his 1949 and 1950 Birth of the Cool sessions. Kind of Blue marked a new, elegantly simple, and resoundingly beautiful approach to jazz improvisation.

Captured during two impromptu recording sessions, Kind of Blue features tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and the pianists Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans (although not at the same time).

The band was sort of an odd mix of musicians. Davis and Coltrane had been performing together for some time, during which time Coltrane had been shifting his style from an awkward post-bop to one that involved flurries of furious notes - dubbed "sheets of sound." This method was one he developed while playing with pianist Thelonious Monk. Coltrane was inching closer to the avant-garde, and would soon be regarded as an innovative genius for composing and recording Giant Steps. His playing on Kind of Blue represents a transition from one style to another.

Cannonball Adderley, on the other hand, had a less experimental approach. A former music teacher, Adderley was rooted in the blues, and had a preternatural gift for constructing virtuosic melodies. On Kind of Blue, his playing reaches new heights of sensitivity, and juxtaposed with Coltrane's, it takes on a surprising gleam.

Pianists Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans also create a breathtaking synergy. Kelly appears on only one track, "Freddie Freeloader," and on it he plays in an understated, bluesy and yet refined style. Evans is present on the remainder of the album, creating muted and melancholy canvasses. Both pianists adapt their voices to fit the overall pensive mood of the album.

Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers do the same. They strip down the conventions of a jazz rhythm section, reducing them to their simplest parts. The restrained and resonant pairing of Cobb's ride cymbal with Chambers' tone is inimitable and indelible.

The synergic effect is at work throughout Kind of Blue, endowing it with a mysterious tension, made more striking by the foundation over which it is stretched. The heads, all composed by either Davis or Evans, are almost shocking in their simplicity. The opening track, "So What," is famous for containing a total of four notes, and only two chords. In doing away with the intricate changes present in bebop, Davis destroyed preconceived notions of jazz, and helped create "modal jazz."

Each of the solos on Kind of Blue are nearly perfect. Davis' Harmon-muted tone is unforgettable, and his improvisations are vulnerable, concise, and filled with thoughtful space. Each of the other band members follows suit, and the result is a rich, consistent, and vibrant sound. There is almost a sense of physical space constructed with each listening, as though the music invites the audience into a room designated for contemplation and reflection.

Relase Date:

August 17th, 1959 on Columbia Records

Personnel:

  • Miles Davis - Trumpet
  • Bill Evans - Piano on all tracks except "Freddie Freeloader"
  • Wynton Kelly - Piano on "Freddie Freeloader"
  • John Coltrane - Tenor Saxophone
  • Julian "Cannonball" Adderley - Alto Saxophone
  • Paul Chambers - Bass
  • Jimmy Cobb - Drums

Track List:

  1. So What
  2. Freddie Freeloader
  3. Blue in Green
  4. All Blues
  5. Flamenco Sketches
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